FINE DINING Scallops are simple to cook at home, to recreate that restaurant feel.
It’s controversial, but I was one of the many who went back to restaurants in December. There was a totally newfound appreciation in sitting down amidst warm and comfortable surroundings to be served food cooked with love, hopefully, by a chef and kitchen who know what they are doing.
One can easily become fatigued in one’s own kitchen, and it will always be a joy to experience the pleasure of other people’s vision of how they like foods to be cooked and presented. That or maybe we have simply grown too lazy – we certainly spend a decent amount of money on eating out compared to previous generations! I think back to the 1980s, when we went once a year to a local restaurant called ‘Niamh’s’ – wooden tables and red gingham clothes. The delicious specialty for us kids was something called potato croquettes, the pinnacle of exotic style and fanciness to children of the ’80s!
Since then, of course, we’ve all come to know our pestos, sun-dried tomatoes and turmeric, and we continue to learn more and more about nutrition.
Scallops are a treat – relatively expensive, sweet, sensual delicacies. They really are perfect treat to try at home during these times to recreate the restaurant vibe.
For some reason it has become part of the cannon of cooking that people automatically pair scallops with bacon or black pudding. The salty, crunchy pork and deep flavours are pitched against the creamy soft flesh of scallops.
Those combinations are a touch macho for my liking. I tend to look elsewhere for inspiration – peas, cauliflower, any beans, mashed potato, celeriac, apple, or sesame are all excellent ingredients to partner with scallops. If you like strong flavours, try something like Mornay sauce, a mustard-flavoured cheese sauce topped with breadcrumbs and placed under the grill to achieve a brown crunchy topping.
I prefer the minimal, less-is-more approach to really good fresh foods. Matching flavours are key to enjoying scallops, but also is the way they are cooked. Like a piece of tender, quality meat, a scallop only requires brief but hot cooking on either side, removing it before the flesh is cooked through, and allowing it time to rest and finish cooking. A hot surface is required for caramelisation to take place where the intense heat forms a tasty and coloured crust on the flesh.
Recently, we enjoyed some supermarket frozen scallops and they did not disappoint. Remember to allow them to defrost overnight in the fridge.
Scallops with celeriac mash, butter beans and peas
All these ingredients are relatively easy to find in shops these days. The dish is also easy to assemble, and even easier to eat!
What you need
- 4-5 scallops per person
- 1 celeriac
- 1 tinned butter beans
- 150g frozen peas
- 200g green beans or asparagus
- 2 garlic cloves, skinned
- Glug of good oil
- 50g butter
- Sesame oil
What you do
Place in room temperature for 20 minutes prior to cooking. Wash or peel the celeriac and cut into cubes or discs, then boil in salted water, drain, mash with milk or cream and butter.
Season and set aside in a warmed bowl. Wash the tinned butter beans well, place in pan with the peas, butter and squeezed garlic, and warm up over a low heat.
Note, no water! Simmer for two minutes when it gets steaming.
Heat a heavy-bottomed frying pan, and add some oil with butter. Immediately, when melted (and before it begins to bubble or foam), lay each scallop down on the hot surface using your fingers. This allows one to ‘feel’ the contact between the flesh and pan, essential for the caramelisation process.
Fry for one to two minutes either side, depending on the scallops’ thickness. Lift off to a warmed plate. Add another knob of butter to the pan, melt and add washed-and-topped asparagus or green beans. When they start to sizzle, add a splash of sesame oil, and cook for another minute while moving everything in pan.
Serve on round plates with mound of mash in the centre, scallops in an arc at bottom of plate, with the greens making a ‘roof’ at the top of plate. Enjoy, you gotta spoil yourselves and have fun in these times!
The Cabot family live and work in Lanmore, outside Westport. Fresh, seasonal foods are their passion, from country markets to growing, making and selling. They love cooking and eating at the kitchen table, while Redmond and Sandra are kept on their toes with children Penny and Louis. Here they share their favourite recipes.